I walked into the coffee shop looking a place to drink a hot chocolate and read a book without the extreme stillness of the library.
“That‘ll be two fifty,” the girl working the counter says. She wears bright purple hair. For some reason, I assume she‘s a poly-sci student.
I wait, scanning the coffee shop. A variety of circular tables with wooden chairs are scattered in the center of the room. Against the wall, easy chairs and small tables provide nooks for reading or private conversation. A variety of post-modern abstract art hangs on the wall; hinting at aesthetics without really conveying any specific meaning. Most of the tables are occupied by groups of two to four students, papers, books and notes scattered all about. Mmm, the smell of midterms is in the air.
“Hot chocolate,” the counter girl announces.
I pick it up and head for an unoccupied pair of easy chairs, weaving around clusters of people studying or chatting. In the corner, I sink into a soft, deep green easy chair. My hot chocalate rests on a Bohemian table, and an identical empty chair stares back at me. Directly above, a particularly large painting shows boxes of black and red in various ratios, surely based on the golden ratio and other more subjective merits.
I pull out my book, “Godel, Escher and Bach” and begin to read. It‘s very interesting, but difficult, and soon my eyes begin to blur. Page after page I turn, and my mind begins to mush. Too much information, too quickly. Need... more... slack...
“Is this seat taken?”
The voice snaps me from my revere. I look up.
A well dressed young man is standing across from me. He has a small hat and a well trimmed goatee. “Uh, I guess not.” There are other seats available...
He sits, and for a moment there is silence. “It just looked like you were tired of reading,” he explains, almost apologetic, “I figured I‘d give you a break. Don‘t worry, I‘m only here for a couple minutes.”
“Sure,” I say. Never been good at small talk. What am I supposed to say?
“What are you reading?” he asks.
“Godel, Escher and Bach” I respond. Never answer a question with a statement when making conversation, always find a way to form it into another question...
“I like this coffeeshop,” he says, “because of the atmosphere. The art, the people.”
I guess he hasn‘t heard of Godel, Escher and Bach. That‘s one way to handle it.
“Me too,” I say. I pick up my hot chocolate and take a slow sip. The whip cream merges with the steaming liquid.. Mmmmm...
I realize my companion does not have a drink.
“Not a coffee fan?” I ask.
“I prefer tea,” he says, taking a sip of his tea.
“What kind of tea is that?” Let‘s see... I know green, black and herbal... And his cup is covered, so I can‘t even fathom a guess.
“Chinese herbal tea,” he responds, taking another sip. “Been brewed for centuries.”
“What‘s your name?” I ask.
He smiles, looking at his cup, a whisp of steam emerging from the small opening at the top.
“You can call me Arthur,” he replies. At least I think that‘s what he said... Kind of a strange way to pronounce Arthur though.
“I‘m Steve,” I say.
“I know,” he says.
“Oh, have I had you in class before?” I can never remember all my students. They‘re always saying hi to me and I never remember who they are... So embarrassing...
“No, no,” he chuckles, setting down his cup on the table.
“So what‘s your story?” I ask, “Waiting for a friend? Class?”
“Nah,” he says, taking another sip of tea. I follow suit and slurp down some hot chocolate, a bit of whip cream sticking to my chin. “Just wanted to get away from everything for a bit.”
“I understand the feeling.”
“You like this place?” he asks.
“Yeah, except for the abstract art doesn‘t really do it for my though. If they replaced it with, for example, Waterhouse that would be really perfect.”
“You like Waterhouse?” he inquires.
“My favorite artist,” I smile broadly.
“You like this piece?” he motions to the large Waterhouse original framed directly above our table.
“The Mermaid,” I identify it. “This is a really nice piece, and original too -- I‘m surprised anything short of a major art museum would have something like this, much less a small town coffee shop.”
“I like the depths of his art.”
“They‘re all based on poetry,” I flaunt my knowledge, “I‘m sure that‘s why the owners of this place chose to put up all Waterhouse works -- because coffee shops are a known hangout of poets and artists.”
“Surely,” he nods gravely, taking a sip of tea.
He glances around at the other students studying fervently, then glances at the large tome on the table, beside my nearly empty hot chocolate.
“Midterm coming up?” he asks.
“Oh no,” I respond, patting the book, “Reading for a class.”
“Computer Science, about computability,” I respond.
“Sounds dry,” he takes another drink from his tea, which seems nearly bottomless.
“Ahhhh!” He releases a sigh of contentment, then chucks the cup into a nearby garbage can.
“I‘d much rather study something outdoorsy,” I admit, “like Botany.”
“You like the outdoors?” he asks.
“Better than being cooped up inside,” I agree.
“So, interesting book or not?” he motions to it.
I heft it up.
“Citrus Industry: History, World Distribution, Botany and Varities,” I read from the cover, “It sounds dry, like you said, but it‘s actually interesting. For example, I just finished reading about the cultivation history of the Pomelo, the largest citrus fruit in the world. Originally from East Asia, now eaten through-out the world.”
“Wow, sounds intense,” he nods, “What‘s your degree?”
“I‘m actually going for a Ph.D.”
“A Ph.D. in Botany, huh?” he muses, rubbing his goatee.
“Yeah, I guess that does sound pretty wild.”
For a moment we sit silently, gazing at the other students engulfed in their own worlds.
“I wish they had free refills here,” I muse aloud, looking into my empty glass.
He looks at me. “You want me to get you another one?” he asks.
“No, no,” I wave my hand, as my face flushes red. “I wasn‘t trying to imply that.”
He smiles. “Don‘t worry about it.”
The cute girl from behind the counter comes over with a new, piping full hot chocolate, even with whipped cream.
“A refill for you,” she says, taking away the empty glass in front of me.
A take a drink. Mmmmmmm good. “Free refills on special drinks,” I remark, “That‘s what really sets this place apart.”
“Pretty unique,” he nods.
“What about you?” I ask. “What‘s your major?”
“Literature,” he replies, matter of factly.
“Oh, interesting,” I reply, “Like what kinds of things?”
“Short stores, mostly,” he looks through the windows. Rain pours down outside and people scurry along with umbrellas and coats. “I like to take an ordinary scene with ordinary people, and then start changing it.”
“Oh really? Like what do you mean?”
“So if someone is in a scene and they say something like ‘I wish I had this’ then I just change the scene so they have it.”
“How do your characters respond to that?”
“They don‘t know. I make it retroactive,” he smiles. “The advantage of being the author is that I can do anything I want, and make my characters do anything I want.”
“That sounds interesting,” I sip from the hot chocolate.
“The best,” he gets excited, “is to write myself into the fiction, like a god among mortals.”
“So you have a little church and the characters worship you or something?” I ask, bemused.
“No, no, not like that,” he laughs, “I prefer to just be a character, with the characters. It‘s an escape for me. Just another guy in the coffee shop.”
“I sometimes wonder,” I venture, “if we are all characters in some great book somewhere.”
“Who is to say that it isn‘t just a pointless short story?” he asks with a smile.
“I suppose anything‘s possible,” I nod, “maybe God is walking among us, like the author of some book.”
“If he‘s just an author like me, you‘d never know if you met him,” he replies.
“I suppose not.”
“Well,” he says, “I better head out. Going to enjoy this beautiful weather.”
“Indeed,” I glance outside. The sun beams warmly down, and people are wearing shorts for the first time in months. “It‘s been so nice today, I can hardly understand why I‘m inside.”
He stands. “Maybe you‘ll get a chance to go out later.”
“I hope so,” I reply, smiling, “Well, Arthur, have a good day.”
“Arthur,” he corrects me with a different pronunciation.
“Ok,” I acknowledge.
He nods and heads for the door, exchanging a pleasentry with the girl behind the counter on the way out.
“Literature majors,” I muse quietly, “They have the strangest ideas.”
Well, I re-orient myself, that was a nice break anyways. Now time to get back to the history of the Citrus industry...
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home?
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